D’town FoCo groups want parking authority

Downtown Fort Collins business owners are pushing for the creation of an independent parking authority.

Ultimate control over decisions about parking would remain with the city, organizers of the push said, but downtown business owners want to be able to weigh in.

A parking authority would most likely include representatives of the Downtown Business Association and the Downtown Development Authority, the two primary organizations that represent business interests in the downtown area.

At least 1,000 new spaces are needed in Fort Collins over the next decade to 15 years, according to a study commissioned by the city.

Hoping to find solution, Michael Short, executive director of the DBA, and Matt Robenalt, who heads the DDA, traveled earlier this month to Missoula, Mont. They were accompanied by Deputy City Manager Diane Jones.

The purpose of the trip, which set each entity back about $1,000, was to study how the city of 67,290 people handles its parking needs.

Missoula has had a “strategic parking plan” in place since the 1970s, Short said. The most striking feature of the Missoula model, he said, was the body established to govern parking questions.

“I was inspired by how they very effectively used an independent parking commission, run by a board of directors,” Short said.

The idea has been tossed around in Fort Collins in the past, but after seeing how well it has worked elsewhere, a committee created by the DBA, DDA and a couple of major downtown stakeholders believes creating a parking organization with a “governance board” is the way to go.

The committee includes Short, Robenalt, Carey Hewitt, owner of The Cupboard and Steve Taylor, owner of Hot Corner Concepts.

“We’re going to be advocating for a governance model that would allow those with the most at stake to have some direct control,” Short said.

This organization would be separate from the city, Short said, and would have “some authority in regard to creating rules.”

A similar organization was recommended by a panel of parking experts from other cities who studied the parking scene in Fort Collins and made recommendations on how to improve the situation last fall.

“The city benefits from the information, experience and wisdom of business leaders, and at the same time, develops a ‘support group’ that can communicate with other business owners and residents,” said the panel’s presentation to the city.

“Private-sector representatives on a governance board have a vehicle for communicating ideas and concerns, and also have a greater sense of ownership in a system that is vital to their needs.”

Following this recommendation, the establishment of a parking organization was included in an earlier draft of the city’s parking plan, with support from both downtown organizations. The city, however, was not convinced.

This summer, Timothy Wilder, a city planner in charge of putting the parking plan together, told the Business Report that the city was unclear about the benefits of such an organization.

The city has taken its time developing the parking plan, pushing its timeline back repeatedly. The plan was initially scheduled to go before council in June, but was pushed back to allow for more public input.

In July, Wilder said that the city was hoping to get the plan adopted by council in October, but the date has been pushed back again, this time to Dec. 4.

Downtown organizations aren’t bothered by the delays, Short said. Instead, he’s glad that the city is taking its time with the matter.

The current system isn’t broken, Short said, but parking shortages will need to be addressed eventually. The city’s plan will help do that, but Short and others on the downtown parking committee hope that the city will follow the recommendation of the expert panel and establish an organization that allows them to make their perspectives known.

“Perspective makes all the difference in the world,” Short said.

“The discussion around parking has a lot of dynamics,” he added. “We need to dial into the balance of needs of everyone involved.”

The private sector-led governance board should carefully evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of paid on-street parking and should provide strong leadership if a decision to advance this recommendation is made.

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Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, marmbrister@ncbr.com or twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR

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